“Here’s much to-do with hate, but more with love” (Romeo). Compare and contrast ways in which David Guterson and Grahame Greene present painful conflict in love relationships that cross boundaries within “Snow falling on Cedars” and “The End of the Affair”

Caroline Finnerty

Guterson and Greene profoundly scrutinize how love and hate entangle within their characters of Ishmael and Bendrix. The painful aftermath ensuing the death of a passionate love affair leads to an apt account of internally conflicting emotions and the blurry line separating them – as Bendrix comments:

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“hatred seems to operate the same glands as love: it even produces the same actions”

A pivotal issue for both Guterson and Greene is the way in which conflict of emotions and relationships affect men and women differently. Both authors use the male characters to depict a selfish love centred on desire and romantic ideals. Ishmael is portrayed as naive and childlike in his blind dreams:

“Love is the strongest thing in the world you know. Nothing can touch it. Nothing comes close. If we love each other we’re safe from it all.”

He chooses to ignore the problems arising both from the war and Pearl Harbour and the culture of their people. The Japanese and Americans were enemies in the war, who would have objected to the romance. Dissimilarly, Bendrix is perceptive of the cruelty of the world. He becomes obsessed by the idea that Sarah will eventually end the affair, returning to her safe marriage, to the extent that he “hated her because I wished to think she didn’t love me” and subconsciously attempted to push her away. Both writers depict the women as self less and aware of their real responsibilities and restrictions in life. Whilst the men blame culture and religion, the women turn to it in the hope for more than just a self focussed existence.

Laura Kryhoski comments:

“For Sarah, love is physically fatal, for Bendrix, it becomes a “record of hate.”

Yet this seems to over simplify the varying approaches to love the characters hold. For despite claiming regularly that the text is a “record of hate”4 Bendrix retracts this statement retrospectively:

“When I began to write I said this was a story of hatred, but I am not convinced. Perhaps my hatred is really as deficient as my love.”

One difference in the two women, however, is the role of influences in enforcing this selflessness. Hatsue is indoctrinated from a young age by her teacher Mrs Shigemura, who tells her to keep avoid the Americans and to “marry a boy of your own kind”. She does not choose her path but instead is bound to it. Sarah, on the other hand, turns to religion of her own accord when she is void of any other hope:

“I love him and I’ll do anything if you’ll make him alive, I said very slowly, I’ll give him up for ever only let him be alive with a chance,”

It is not until later that Sarah receives outside influence to remain on the path from the Catholic Church.

“No, no, no, he said, I couldn’t marry you, I couldn’t go on seeing you, not if I was going to be a Catholic.”

This contrast in the way the two women are affected demonstrates the different settings in which they live. Although both books are set in the Second World War, Hatsue is directly affected by it and must follow the rules in order to maintain her culture whilst Sarah is amongst the women in England gaining independence through the war and the freedom it offered. Both authors display negative aspects in their male characters yet the true negativity lies with the women, both responsible for ending the relationship and causing the men pain. The influence of religion and culture used here, by Guterson and Greene to end the romances, could represent how propriety complicates life, and relate directly to the war in which race and religion were instrumental features.

Both writers experiment in time, focussing especially on how, despite popular theory, it does not heal old wounds. Neither novel follows the classic chronological structure. Cedars moves flawlessly between present and past with the aid of character testimonies in court and private memories of Hatsue and Ishmael. This gives the novel a court-like structure, offering a courtroom drama genre, with the writing repeatable returning to the trial, using it as a point for focalisation. This style might mirror the restrictions of society on Ishmael and Hatsue’s relationship, which confine them as they try to break out of conventionality. The idea of being trapped by the world is also mirrored in Guterson’s use of symbolism, for example when Hatsue says, “we’re trapped inside this tree8” implying that the walls around their relationship hold them in and remove the hope of them ever moving on. Nicholas Evans says:

“Guterson’s handling of time is masterly. The transitions between present and past are seamless but we always know precisely where we are and through whose eyes we are watching the events unfold.”9

In contrast “The End of the Affair” begins in the middle. The affair has ended but the true finale has not occurred. Throughout the text time merges and Greene moves with ease between past and present events without warning. This mirrors the way in which present events and past memories mingle within the characters to join in the one obsession of their love. How things occurred, in what order or time space, becomes insignificant.

Another method by which Greene incorporates time into “The End of the Affair” is to retell the events through another’s eyes. This allows the reader to consider the complexity of life and how nobody really ever knows the full picture. Bendrix and Sarah only know half the story and, until we reach the end, we too are ignorant. This could be a reference towards Greene’s own affair with Lady Catherine Walston, warning us that to assume knowledge and jump to conclusions causes pain. For example, when Bendrix discovers a letter from Sarah saying:

“I know I am only beginning to love, but already I want to abandon everything, everybody but you:”

He instantly assumes that it is directed at another lover but it becomes apparent through Sarah’s record of events that the letter is really innocently addressed to God. Guterson also uses time to remind us that we rarely have the full story. The gradual build up of events reveals the truth about the relationship between Hatsue and Ishmael and Kabuo’s innocence.

In both novels painful sickness is used for symbolic effect. The loss of Ishmael’s arm becomes symbolic of the loss of Hatsue and how the pain and loss will remain with him. When he loses it the immediate thought is “that fucking goddamn Jap bitch”, linking the two events together and demonstrating how the loss of Hatsue to him was as significant as the loss of his limb. Whereas in “Snow Falling on Cedars”, sickness is about holding onto love in “The End of the Affair” sickness is negative. It is sickness which permanently ends the affair by terminating Sarah’s life however Bendrix blames God not illness:

“it was as if she were alive still, in the company of a lover she had preffered to me. How I wished I could send Parkis after her to interrupt their eternity”.

Bendrix is incapable of understanding the deeper levels of love found in religion. In a less literal sense sickness is also seen through Bendrix and his obsession. In the film interpretation of “The End of the Affair” Bendrix is shown to be jealous even of Sarah’s shoes because “they’ll take you away from me”.12This is an accurate display of the way his obsession for her was all consuming:

“‘always the same play, Sarah making love, Sarah with X doing the same thing that we had done together, Sarah kissing in her own particular way, arching herself in the act of sex and uttering that cry like pain, Sarah in abandonment’.”

Greene likens her passion to ‘pain’ demonstrating how similar love and hate, passion and suffering are. Ishmael too shares this sort of sickness, his personal obsession towards Hatsue preventing him moving on with his life. He finds empty relationships because he cannot let go:

“‘he slept with them angrily and unhappily and because he was lonely and selfish'”

Sickness is used alternatively in “The End of the Affair” through Mr Parkis and his son. Mr Parkis’ boy is healed by Sarah’s love, “Mrs Miles who came and took the pain away”, suggesting that eventually love and mercy conquer misery. This could depict that ultimately God’s love will rescue Bendrix from his ‘sickness’ in as it rescued Sarah from her suffering. There is no such chance of spiritual rescue in “Snow Falling on Cedars” as Ishmael is expected to move on alone. Yet in the absence of God Ishmael finds refuge in family:

“‘What else do we have?’ replied Ishmael. ‘Everything else is ambiguous. Everything else is emotions and hunches. At least the facts you can cling to; the emotions just float away.’

‘Float away with them,’ said his mother.’ If you can remember how, Ishmael. If you can find them again. If you haven’t gone cold forever.'”

An epistolary style is used to explore painful relationships from varying views. In “Snow Falling on Cedars” we see Hatsue’s letter to Ishmael and the ocean report whilst in “The End of the Affair” we see Parkis’ reports, Sarah’s diary, Sarah’s letter and Parkis’ letters to expand our ability to understand the situation. Critic A. A. DeVitis spoke of this technique in “The End of the Affair”:

“Greene’s use of the diary and of the journal allows him not only to characterize his people but also to portray the various levels of meaning of the spiritual drama enacted. Bendrix looks at Sarah; Sarah looks at herself as she looks at God. The Bystanders look at Sarah, and she leaves her mark on them.”

This seems to be an accurate review because the diary allows Greene to give us a true insight into his characters. Unlike the rest of the book, the diary was not written for publication and so gives Sarah’s private feelings of inadequacy and being “a bitch and a fake”. This could be said to be more effective than Guterson’s method, in which we never truly get into the heads of the characters, even in their letters. Although there is emotion in the letters it is controlled because, unlike Sarah’s diary, the characters expect their letters to be read,

‘”I am going to move on with my life as best I can, and I hope that you will too.'”

In “The End of the Affair” Greene makes use of both a self conscious and unreliable narrator for the majority of the text. This allows the reader to get inside Bendrix’s head and really understand his point of view. Critic Francis Wyndham finds fault with this narrative style commenting that it provides “too narrow a view, preventing the reader from truly gaining a perspective on the story”.18 Yet it could be argued that the use of a self conscious and unreliable narrator helps illustrate the obsession in which Bendrix lives, where no one else’s thoughts or feelings are considered.

In “Snow Falling on Cedars” the main narrative technique is an omniscient narrator which perhaps detaches the reader much more from the events whilst on the other hand gives a full understanding of the events occurring. Guterson is fond of descriptive language especially relating to the history of his characters and the little dialogue is often to further the plot. The main occurrence of dialogue within “Snow Falling on Cedars” is within the courtroom and the questioning of the witnesses. This increases the suspense because it controls the amount of information we receive and pauses time:

“A cut,” said Nels. “Is that right? Carl Heine cut his hand?” “Yes.”

“Any idea how?”

“None, really. I could speculate though.”

Barbara Bleiman stated that this method of dialogue offers:

“us evidence directly, in the same way as the characters receive it, rather than mediated by an all-knowing narrative voice.”

This also limits the text though, to the extent that description of the action of the characters becomes less frequent and thus it is harder to imagine the scene:

“‘All right, sheriff,’ Nels said . ‘let me ask you about something else, if you don’t mind, for a moment. Tell me – when you brought the deceased in was there some sort of trouble? When you hauled him up from the sea in his fishing net?’

‘Yes,’ said Art Moran. ‘ I mean, he was heavy. And, well his lower half – his legs and feet? – they wanted to slide out of the net….”

Contrastingly, Greene uses dialogue predominantly to detach the reader from Bendrix, allowing a view of him from the outside:

“You’d be jealous of Henry,’ I said.

‘No. I couldn’t be. It’s absurd.’

‘If you saw your marriage threatened…'”

When narration is present emotion quickly increases with the intensity of Bendrix’s hate and love perfectly mirroring the way that, when others are not present with Bendrix, hate and love consume him and his mind is on nothing else:

“It occurred to me with amazement that for ten minutes I had not thought of Sarah or of my jealousy; I had become nearly human enough to think of another person’s trouble.”

What is most interesting to compare between “The End of the Affair” and “Snow Falling on Cedars” is the ending. “Snow Falling on Cedars” ends with Hatsue saying to Ishmael “Find someone to marry,” and “have children, Ishmael. Live.” This allows Ishmael to finally let go of the past and do the right thing. The ending is positive, with all of the characters receiving a blank slate and a chance to begin again without the painful aftermath of the relationship – love conquers hate. Scott Hicks disagreed that the novel’s ending was happy enough and ended his screenplay with Hatsue asking Ishmael, “can I hold you now?”24 This contradicts the message of the book, where Hatsue chooses morality and love for her culture over her childhood desire. Although the film ending offered somewhat more of a classic happy ending, the novel gives a spiritually content one with each character finding peace. “The End of the Affair” ends with the very negative sentiment of a man so consumed with hate he may never move on:

“You’ve done enough, you’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.”

This could illustrate the different outlooks on life that the authors have. Whilst Guterson depicts that life can move on despite the pain of losing love, Greene appears to suggest that once love is lost there is nothing left but emptiness. This could mirror his feelings after the end of his affair with Lady Catherine Walston to whom he dedicates the book. Both authors end with the separation of the lovers but in “Snow Falling on Cedars” at least one of the lovers is happy contrasting to “The End of the Affair” where neither are. This could link to Greene’s Catholic beliefs suggesting that happiness can never result from sin, especially such a sin as adultery. It appears that Guterson has more hope for the characteristics of man then Greene:

“accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart”

This links with the quote Greene begins ‘The End of the Affair’ with:

“”Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.”

Guterson’s is a positive image of pain in love being worthwhile because it is not by accident; Greene’s suggests that, without suffering, people would be unable to feel anything because their heart would not be open.

Guterson and Greene are both talented in using advanced techniques in order to investigate the results of a painful relationship. Greene approaches the issue with extreme levels of emotion bursting through the text – “but happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity”28 compared to Guterson’s more sophisticated approach “beneath the surface of everything else he’d been thinking of her with pleasure”29 This difference may stem from Greene’s own experience in a painful relationship, which Guterson lacks, having married and settled down at a young age. Guterson also focuses more on the impact of culture in destroying relationships, whilst for Greene the external factor is mainly religion. Although in neither novel are the lovers reconciled, there is a contrast between a seemingly positive and negative ending; both authors effectively convey a different side of the nature of pain in love relationships.


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